Case Study: Lean Customer Management in a Flagship Bakery

Case Study: Lean Customer Management in a Flagship Bakery

Project Name:

Lean retail sales practices in food production


Food manufacturing


  • Using lean to identify and address bottlenecks in tourist visitation
  • Development of improved tourist management and foodservice techniques

The Challenge

A national Brussels-based bakery chain found itself unable to cope with a high volume of in-person visitors. The bakery’s main location serves quadruple duty as: 1.) the flagship bakery of the chain; 2.) a supplier of raw materials (yeast and frozen doughs) to outlying franchises; 3.) sole fulfilment of international orders; and 4.) a tourist destination serving baked goods and refreshments onsite as well as scheduled tours of the facility.

Over the past few years, wide social media presence has resulted in greater numbers of tour buses packing the car park, delivering hundreds of hungry customers throughout each day including during peak production times. The staff were inexperienced in handling large groups, and significant linguistic challenges, overcrowding, long wait times and rapid depletion of stock for sale quickly resulted in complaints and poor internet reviews. As deleterious as this was to the brand overall, the influx of customers and re-assignment of bakery staff to crowd control also negatively affected quality control of the products.

The bakery contacted Zerwaste and together a plan was devised to improve the “front of house” processes. This initiative was seen as an opportunity to not merely fix a problem, but to leapfrog ahead by both restoring and improving onsite customer experience, bakery production, and global branding.

The Action

Zerwaste started by talking with the team leaders who oversaw the bakers and food specialists behind the counters and in the large bakery-kitchens. In a series of presentations and short workshops, we introduced them to the Lean approach as applied specifically to a joint on-site manufacturing and retail environment. We set up monitors, both human and computer-based, to track the movements of employees and customers during peak time, and we paired these with the already-established metrics that management had devised within the past two years.

By tracking human activity, we developed a heat map that identified movement patterns and bottlenecks which in turn identified delays and wasted activity. The results of this lean traffic analysis enabled the bakery management to redefine physical movement space. This included:

  • A larger “welcome lobby” in which a busload of tourists could stop and get their bearings instead of crowding the food counters
  • A concierge for each bus – a staff member dedicated to welcoming the visitors, explaining how and where they could go
  • An expanded seating area for baked goods and coffees, accessible at the back of the facility
  • A plexiglass enclosed hallway through the middle of the bakery to guide visitors to the seating/restaurant area, without actually entering the bakery – this allowed improved movement for employees and guests alike while maintaining appropriate hygiene requirements
  • Standardized workflows were developed to reduce bottlenecks in production of baked goods and refreshments
  • Education for all staff on how to track their performance and solve problems themselves

The Results

A small amount of physical renovation and workflow redesign resulted in customer wait times being reduced by 40%. Staff became better able to manage visitor loads and production schedules more effectively, and as an added benefit, the cost of the physical renovations including the plexiglass hallway and car park expansion for tour buses will be entirely covered by gift shop and restaurant net profits within three years.

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